Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Copyright Principles Project - Copyright Law Reform

The Copyright Principles Project: Directions for Reform is attempting to influence a movement to reform the current copyright law to be simpler, easier to understand the more malleable due to changing times. The report can be found here and will be published in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal this fall.

While I agree that the U.S. copyright law could use some revisions especially given technological advances, some of the ideas raised in the report are highly problematic.

First, in a practical sense, the U.S. copyright law has been amended well over 50 times in the past 30 years. 1 Patry on Copyright §§ 1:110-114 (2008).

This has not resulted in the law being able to keep up with the advances in technology. But viewed in terms of other areas of the law, copyright law manages to updated with regularity. The law will never be able to catch up with technology. By the time many laws are passed, new issues arise. It is unrealistic to believe that changes in the copyright law will cause it to catch up to the technology.

It is also inconsistent to believe that we can make copyright law simpler and easier to understand and at the same time catch up with technology. Technologies are complicated. The DMCA is an attempt by Congress to create a system of laws to apply copyright law to the digital age.

Striking a balance between creating an incentive for the creation and promotion of the arts and the rights of the public is not easy. Efforts by the Principles Project create imbalance for sake of ease.

For example, avoiding liability for non-commercial uses of a copyrighted work could make the law easier in terms of understanding what the law is; however, it takes the balance and weighs it heavily in favor of public rights and takes the rights of the author away. Courts have struggled with the problem of non-commercial uses especially under the fair use doctrine, but commercial/non-commercial uses are not the only factor. See e.g. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 539 (1985).

The Principles Project has several other proposals including more “safe harbor” provisions, consistency in damage awards, and other provocative ideas which may the subject of future blog entries.

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